Tag Archives: preserving

Storing winter squash

We’ve still got quite the supply of pie pumpkins and butternut squash.  We love them both very much and started the winter off with a vanload.  See the picture from Courtney’s post a month ago.

Storing them was easy.  We brought them home from our friend’s house and cleaned them up with a wet rag and a bucket of water.  I let them dry in the garage overnight, because I didn’t want excess water soaking in to the top of our kitchen cabinets.  The next day we arranged them on top of the cabinets.  Done.  I didn’t do anything else to them.  I’ve read that it might be a good idea to dip them in a clorox/water solution as a way of preventing mold, etc but I didn’t do that.

I wondered how long they would keep.  Now I know it is about five months.  At the beginning of February I went through and inspected each one.  There were two or three that were getting soft and a few more that were developing a small amount of white fuzzy mold at the bottom.  All of those were thrown away.  That was a tough one for me, because you all know that I don’t like to throw things away.  Having a food scientist for a wife helps keep the gray areas of what is acceptable to eat or not well defined and very narrow.  I was tempted at first to simply cut out the bad spots and cook the rest as a way to salvage the pumpkin.  Courtney says “no” because fungi usually have very extensive root systems, meaning that if we see a little surface mold then the flesh of the pumpkin is likely full of mold roots.  As an interesting side note, see this Wikipedia article on the 2200 acre fungus patch in Oregon.

Today I see that there are a few more showing signs of wear, so we’ll have to do another wave of winnowing.  It is probably time to bake the last of them and freeze as much as we can.

Here’s a picture of a good one and a bad one.  Its pretty easy to tell them apart.

I should also mention, though, that the butternuts keep much longer.  We only threw one away so far and it was because the skin was scraped and therefore weakened.  They are good keepers.

Thanks, Robert.

Using the Tattler Canning Lids

Over this past weekend, we tested out the Tattler Reusable Canning Lids for the first time while making our peach jam.  The worked like a charm.

You start out placing the rubber rings and plastic lids in scalding water, just like you would if you were using the traditional metal lids.

Put the lid and the rubber gasket together and place on top of the jar.  Then screw on the ring the same way you would with the metal lids.

Process as your normally would and then you’re done.   I must say, it is hard to tell by looking whether they are set or not.  With the metal lids, you can usually glance at them and determine quickly if one of the seals failed.  The Tattler lids are thicker and more rigid.  I had to take the rings off to tell if I had a good seal.  All were good!

Thanks, Robert.

It was a peachy weekend

Its high season now and you’ve got to put away as much food as you can while things are at their peak stage of ripeness.  On Saturday morning, Courtney and I bought two 18 Lb boxes of peaches at the nearest farm stand.  Once we got home we immediately began cutting and and prepping the fruit. Personally, we both agreed that we have had better peaches, but these would be good enough for preserving.

We started with boxes like this and washed each peach in the sink with a rag, to rub off the excess fuzz.

We made 22 half pints of peach jam and the rest will be dried.

To dry, we used the Oster food dehydrator that I received as a gift from my mother in law.  It works great.  (Thank you!)  Twelve peaches will fill up the dehydrator and it yields two and a third quarts of finished product.  It only takes ten hours to dry four trays of peaches.  Once dry, we put the slices in quart size ball jars and tighten the lids.

I tried drying outside in the sun too.  That was a much slower process.  I draped a sheer nylon curtain over the trays to keep bugs out.  Between the breeze, the dogs and a toddler, that method wasn’t going to work.  I brought the trays in and rotated them into the dehydrator for the next batch.   This renewed my interest to build a New Mexico style solar dehydrator.  You can see a diagram in the image gallery of this article at Mother Earth News.

Thanks, Robert.

Eating food that’s alive

I’m not getting all vegan, raw food crazy here but I am starting to think about an idea I read about in Four Season Harvest.  And that is eating fresh food, not embalmed food.  You’ve probably seen my review of the book but now I keep revisiting the idea of eating fresh food all year.

A quote from the introduction of the book sums it all up.  “We adore fresh food, what we call “real food,” the fresher the better. We have never considered the many-month-old embalmed remains of last summer’s harvest, whether canned or frozen, to be real food.”

Yikes, that seems radical and somewhat offensive to us canners doesn’t it?  But I have to admit that I agree.  This is an idea that has popped up in my conversations with Robert over the last year or so.  Should we be using our time and resources to can our food or should we be choosing crops that store better in their natural state, potatoes, carrots, squash, parsnips, wheat, etc.  Robert has shared examples with me from blogs he follows about those who never can their summer harvest.  In fact they avoid growing tomatoes, scandalous I know.  It always seemed impossible but now that I have read Four Season harvest I am beginning to think again.  Instead of growing 27 tomato plants, yes we did that, use the ground to plant more sweet potatoes and devote some space to the winter garden or cold frames.  Don’t worry I could never give up tomatoes and I find they are the most used and rewarding canned vegetable.  But I am considering altering how we plant our garden, which foods we grow and how we store them.

Here’s what I am thinking (I always think in bullet points so bear with me, right brainers):

  • Summer crops stored in the field – carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts, plus so many more
  • Summer crops stored in the root cellar – potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, wheat, oats, sunflower seeds, plus so many more
  • Summer crops canned – tomatoes, pickled this or that, jams galore
  • Winter crops eaten fresh – mache, scallions, endive, spinach, baby lettuce, plus so many more

This would be a pretty radical shift from almost all of our summer crops getting canned or pickled and only a small holding of potatoes and sweet potatoes in the root cellar.  But oh how freeing this new plan is.  Don’t get me wrong I love to can as much as the next sweaty, exhausted gal but I could use a break.  Plus I am not all that fond of pressure canning, it scares me.  Now all we need is a place to grow the food and we are set.  No more dead, embalmed food for us.  What do you think?

Thanks,  Courtney

Canning: Why proper headspace is important

I wish I had read this post of mine before our little canning jaunt this weekend.  I was enticed by a sale at the grocery store for blueberries.  Of course I bought way too much.  But I decided to can the blueberries to make pie later in year, or as long as I could hold out.  Which with my pregnant restraint won’t be long.  My goal is to can fruit and then develop a pie recipe that accommodates my canned fruit rather than fresh or frozen.

I followed the recipe for canned berries in the Ball Canning Book.  This was a very simple recipe.  And by simple I mean fast.  It involved very little cook time, no pectin and very little sugar.  The recipe said to leave 1/2″ headspace.  I couldn’t find my handy dandy tool that measures the headspace so I used the picture in the book.  Then I consulted Robert.  We decided it needed just a little bit more.

After processing in a boiling water bath for 25 minutes (we are at a high altitude so I have to add 10 minutes to any processing time) we pulled out the jars only to find that they had severely leaked.  The canning water was purple and the jars kept leaking once they were on they were out of the water.  Not good.   Robert and I said a little prayer that they would pull a seal and I wouldn’t have to freeze them.  After about an hour they did seal though but we lost a lot of liquid.

Here is another example of headspace problems.  In this case we underfilled the jar of applesauce.  You can kind of see from the picture that there is a brown discoloration at the top.  This is safe I believe, just discolored due to too much oxygen in the jar.

You can see the jar on the left is filled pretty full, maybe too full.  The jar on the right is too low and the top portion of the jar is brownish.

The Ball canning book has a section in the back for diagnosing problems.  We think we may have overfilled or overpacked the jars.  But the fruit should be fine.  I think it might easily discolor though like the applesauce.  I hope to use them before this happens.  So another lesson in canning, trust the book and don’t overfill or underfill the jars.  We’ll get it right one of these days.

Thanks,  Courtney

Apricot Jam and Cherry Preserves

What did you do on Sunday afternoon?  We were toiling over the hot stove.  But oh, was it worth it.

Apricots macerating.  Courtney cut these up the night before and let them sit for quite a while.

We made a batch of Apricot Jam and a batch of Cherry Preserves.  No pectin needed.  Just fruit and sugar here.  We used recipes from the Art of Preserving again.  Here are a few teaser pics from the end of the process:

And of course we had one more of each that was a partial jar which we’re eating now.

Thanks, Robert.

Pitting Cherries Without a Cherry Pitter

Cherries herald in the summer stone fruit season.  And boy am I glad they do.   I suppose any fruit would do after a boring winter of canned this and dried that.  But it was cherries that received the special honor (I know rhubarb is really first but actually it’s a vegetable I think).  Recently I received 6 pounds of organic sweet cherries from a fabulous mail order fruit company.  What to do with so much fruit I wondered?   Because you better believe that I was not going to let one single cherry get moldy and be thrown away on my watch.  Off I went to my canning books.

But before I could even get the book open my son popped a cherry in his mouth, chewed and swallowed it all, I managed to grab the stem as he was swallowing.  Okay now I had a new problem, I needed a way to pit the “balls” as he calls them, so he could actually enjoy them too.  I started cutting around the seed but that was unacceptable to an almost 2 year old boy because then they weren’t “balls” anymore and he wanted “balls.”  I remembered reading in Cook’s Illustrated about using a wine bottle and a chopstick to pit them.  Hmm sounds strange.

All we had was a beer bottle, go figure, so I gave it a try.  To my surprise it actually worked.  Here’s what you do.

1.  Gather your supplies

2.  Position cherry upside down on the top of the beer bottle.

3.  Using a chopstick, poke a hole right through the top of the cherry into the bottle.

The pit should fall into the bottle and the cherry remain intact.

I found that it worked better if the cherry was upside down and you aimed for the tiny mark on the bottom left by the flower.  When the cherry is rightside up I had several bottom halves of the cherry rip off and fall into the bottle.  Losing any bit of my cherry was unacceptable and turning it upside down solved the problem.

My son was pleased with the “balls” and I was too.  Now onto canning.  FYI I will be making Cherry Preserves from The Art of Preserving.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Thanks, Courtney.